Lovecraft is one of those writers that you either love or hate. But despite how you feel about him, it is undeniable his influence on modern dark fiction. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is an example of all of that. One of the backbone stories of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, it tells the tale of the eponymous character in his research into an ancient relative with a sinister history. True to a trait of any Lovecraft story, the search for knowledge that humankind is not ready for leads to disastrous and disturbing fates.
What a lot of people don’t care for about Lovecraft is the writing, mostly the tendency to write in a more archaic tone and vocabulary. It the first third of the book, it is one of the heaviest uses of that style, and is the weakest point in the story. Now, it makes sense since he trying to write about events between the Salem witch trials and the American Revolution. But it is a style that, even in the 1920’s and 30’s was uncommon to read, let alone today.
But if you can get through that section, you do read a great, disturbing tale. Lovecraft proved, in this and other stories, that the terrors you can’t seen are the most terrifying. Through the rest of the book sounds of uncanny and weird goings-on are a subtle soundtrack. Lovecraft, despite the prose, does manage to show how the atmosphere affect the characters. Now, we do see somethings, like the degradation of Ward’s appearance and mind, but also of “specimens” and other arcane elements that Lovecraft never gives a full picture of. Many say it is to let the reader fill in the blanks and create their own terror. But he was just staying true to something he believed: There are just something humans cant comprehend because we are so small in comparison to the rest of the universe. By trying to describe the unknowable is to state you think you do know it. In that way, the terrors of this and other Lovecraft stories are possibly the most terrifying in literature.
The ending my feel predictable, but then, this kind of mystery has been used in different genres so many times since The Case of Charles Dexter Ward was first published. And it still affected by the style of writing that emphasis of dramatic middles with a falling action, ending in a dénouement like the greek and Shakespearean dramas. While a major influence of modern fiction, it can’t be read like modern fiction. That wasn’t Lovecraft’s intent.
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, while not an introductory story for Lovecraftian tales, is still a key text to what it means to be Lovecraftian.
Horror Reader Level: Intermediate